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Curling Up With Gran for a Story

THANKS to my grandmother, who raised me, I love to read (although in this age of competing media, I often feel that I'm not reading as much as I could and should). Not only do I like reading, I am a lover of books - the way they smell, their feel, and how they look - a true bibliophile. Almost every evening she would read aloud to us. It was on her rather palatial lap that I took enchanted journeys with ``The Little Prince,'' shared in the triumph of ``Hans Brinker: The Silver Skates,'' or unlocked the mysteries of ``The Secret Garden.''

Gran's voice was a rich contralto the timbre of which held us spellbound and could make us weep at sad moments, terrified during scary episodes, and in hysterics over the funny bits.

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The sofa where we grandchildren took turns on Gran's lap was a comfortable old thing, renovated occasionally over the years in colorful chintzes, lustrous damasks, and once in the softest of moss-green fabrics. It was placed next to a spacious fireplace with wooden mantel and marble hearth where on chilly evenings we'd toast marshmallows and make S'mores (the gooiest of snacks made by sandwiching a chunk of chocolate bar between two graham crackers glued together with hot marshmallow).

While she read she'd let us play with her thick, waist-long salt and pepper hair, which normally was twisted tight into two dignified buns held fast with silvery hairpins and finished by a hairnet that settled over the knots of hair like a fine mist. We'd brush it and make braids and tie ribbons as she read, unaffected by all the fussing, turning the pages with lovely, long fingers, her nails buffed and manicured simply with a clear coat of polish.

Sometimes we granddaughters took turns in reading out loud. This spilled over into putting on plays, which my youngest sister, always keen on dress-ups, really got excited about. She was forever dragging out old clothes, illustrating her parts in funny hats and wobbling about in high-heeled shoes and knobby boots. The Alcott books were my favorites to produce - I always wanted to be the inventive, adventurous Jo in ``Little Women,'' although I had trouble convincing my sisters that they should play vain Amy or matronly Meg.

My older sister loved to do the original ``Oz'' books, by Frank L. Baum, where her flair for art showed up in whimsical face painting; only in those days the makeup did not wash off as nicely as today's, and we often went to school the next day looking like creatures from outer space. For a time we had three cousins living next door, providing two more girls who would join in the theatrics and read-alouds with Gran.

Grandmother Grace's storytelling abilities did not end with available written materials. She also invented stories populated with characters suspiciously like her own grandchildren, caught up in uncomfortably familiar situations needing thoughtful resolutions. I remember one called ``Little One Eye, Little Two Eye, Little Three Eye,'' which dealt with the problems of telling lies, losing one's temper, and stealing. For years I thought this was a tale spun by Grimm or Andersen, and it was only as an adult that I realized it was one of her own splendid concoctions.

Those memorable stories read aloud over and over again remain vivid and treasured by all of her grandchildren, and the fact that we each love to read is a tribute to the value of such shared experiences. As a result, some of us went on to the deeper study of literature and the pursuit of careers at various times in writing, illustrating, and the theater, owing, I'm sure, to our being nurtured so diligently in our young lives. It is a tribute to the value of such shared experiences, yes, but more than this it's a tribute to a grandparent who had the wit and wonderfully good sense to read to us out loud.

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